These days federalism is mercilessly bashed and denounced in Ghana. It has become anathema, a scare crow. Admittedly, the history of federalism in Ghana is not good. Because of the activities of those who initiated it in the 1950s, it has become associated with violence, disunity and tribalism. That negative mindset about federalism still persists. Just mention the word federalism and you are likely to be condemned and accused of treason and subversion. In my view, the negative feeling against federalism is an overreaction of a people who do not seem to understand the concept or are downright intolerant.
There is no need for Ghanaians to be scared of federalism. A careful study of the concept will reveal that federalism is one of the best political concepts practised anywhere in the world. Federalism, like Christianity or Islam or democracy, is neutral. It is neither evil nor good. Its nature and form depend on how it is practiced and who is practising it. If federalism is good for USA, Brazil, Belgium, Switzerland, UK, South Africa and India why should it be bad for Ghana? Indeed, the impression I have is that the most progressive, successful and well developed countries on this earth are federal states. Check it. Of course, some countries like UK and South Africa do not use the word federalism to describe their political systems but we know they are federal states.
Federalism connotes “Unity in diversity” and gives room to its component parts to develop at their own pace. It identifies individual needs and tries to solve them. Federalism has nothing or very little to do with the size of a country. It is politically correct for big massive USA, Brazil and Russia just as it is good for tiny Belgium and Switzerland. It is, therefore, pure lack of knowledge to say that Ghana is too small to be a federal state.
It is equally untenable to say that federalism breeds tribalism, therefore, Ghana should avoid it like COVID-19 while we know and acknowledge the fact that without federalism, tribalism would have destroyed and fragmented Nigeria. Homogeneous unitary states like Somalia and Rwanda are in disorder and, please, do not tell me it is because of tribalism! India, China, Russia and Brazil are thriving and are considered progressive, and do not say it is because there are no tribes there!
On the other hand, let us look at the situation of unitary states. Ghana, Togo, Senegal, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Cameroun, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi, Central African Republic, etc are all unitary states but they are governance challenges, corruption, economically depressed and poor. They live from hand to mouth, lack confidence and direction and suppress free speech. They are all neo-colonialist states struggling desperately to survive. There is a lot of suppression and oppression in these countries and individual differences are not recognized, in fact, muted. There is tyranny galore in the name of keeping the “peace and unity” of the state and people can hardly breathe.
Ghana is a unitary state. The 1992 Constitution has entrenched that. Fortunately, the same constitution is keenly aware that Ghanaians could, one day, ask for a change and has, therefore, made provision for amendments. In other words, if after ”X” years Ghanaians decide to practice federalism and proportional representation systems the Constitution could be amended to take care of that. So let no one frighten us and gag the discussion on federalism.
Let me, at this stage, remind Ghanaians that federalism is not completely alien to Ghana. A cursory look at the 1957 Constitution of Ghana reveals that that Constitution was not a unitary constitution. It, more or less, resembled a federal constitution. If you like call it a pseudo-federal constitution. It was monarchical as well. Until 1960 when Ghana became a republic, Ghana was not totally free and independent. In the first place, the Head of State was the Queen of England, represented in Ghana by the Governor-General. The Prime Minister who was appointed by the Governor-General was just a Chief Minister and head of an eight-man Cabinet which was “charged with the general direction and control of the Government of Ghana” (Art. 7(1) 1957 Constitution). The Ministers were appointed by the Governor-General and could be removed by him, except of course, the Prime Minister
There was a Parliament which consisted of the Queen and the National Assembly. Next were the Regional Councils and the Regional Assemblies. The Regional Council Heads were Chiefs (monarchs) answerable to the Governor-General. But the obvious federal element came in with the devolution of powers to Regional Assemblies.
“For the purpose of fulfilling the need for a body at regional level with effective powers in specific fields, a Regional Assembly shall be established by Act of Parliament in and for each Region” (Art 64(1))
“A Regional Assembly shall have and exercise authority, functions and powers to such extent as may be prescribed by Act of Parliament relating to- (a) Local Government (b) Agriculture, Animal Health and Forestry (c) Education (d) Communication (e) Medical and Health Services (f) Public Works (g) Town and Country Planning (h) Housing (i) Police “ (Art. 64 (2)
Almost all the powers of government were to be exercised by the Regional Assemblies. Missing from the regional list were Foreign Affairs, Finance, Army, Economic Affairs, Land and Minerals and Attorney-General. This, to me, was a serious devolution of powers to the Regional Assemblies and, to all intents and purposes, the 1957 Constitution smells more like a federal constitution than a unitary one. So Ghanaians cannot claim or pretend to be new to federalism.
HAVE WE BENEFITED FROM THE UNITARY SYSTEM?
Seriously speaking, Ghanaians have, since 1960, practised a full blown unitary system of government but it seems they have nothing positive to show for it. But pride and intolerance have made us stick to it. Tribalism, mismanagement, poverty, underdevelopment, corruption, nepotism, you name it, are rife and are on the ascendancy. Ghana is rich in minerals, cocoa, timber, oil, rivers, arable lands and human resources but unitary government has not translated these to wealth and good living. Unitary government has not abolished tribal differences, so we still call some Ghanaians “Togolese,” “pepeni” or cowboys. Tribal hegemony is at its height and the tribal supremacists are doing their own thing. We are yet to see the positive gains brought about by unitary system. But we are fixated on it. If unitary system cannot solve, or even reduce, our problems why do we stick to it blindly? Why, for goodness sake, can’t we be proactive and try something else? After all, our elders say, if you go to market to buy something and you do not get it you do not sleep in the market! Let us try a new political system which some progressive states have tried and it has worked for them. We need not reinvent the wheel.
My preferred alternative political system is federalism. Let us initiate a free public debate on it. Should we reach a consensus on it then we can amend the constitution and install it democratically. I have already indicated that federal system of government is not entirely new to Ghana. In fact, according to Alex Frempong (Elections in Ghana, 2017) the July 1956 election was a referendum on Unitary or Federal systems of government for independent Ghana. Even though the CPP and the unitary system won the day the 1957 Independence Constitution of Ghana resembled, to an extent, a federal or pseudo federal constitution.
Ashanti, the Northern Territories and the British Togoland fought strenuously for federation. They waged a bitter struggle and were prepared to die for it. In fact, many people were martyred. Deep down their hearts I suspect they still yearn for federalism; they are still federalists at heart. The leopard does not change its spot! But for now, they have mellowed and cooled down, may be, because they (Ashanti and the North) control economic and political power in Ghana. I suspect, strongly, that so long as they wield economic and political power the “federalists” (Ashanti and the North) will acquiesce to unitary government. Interestingly, the advocates and initiators of federalism have become the defenders of the unitary system. It seems to me that the political equation and calculations favour them and they do not have any qualms sacrificing federalism on the altar of political expediency and self-interest.
But it will be in the supreme interest of all Ghanaians to take a second look at the federal concept. The half-hearted decentralization as it is now practiced in Ghana is a non-starter; a poor substitute. Ashanti is rich in resources and has a powerful culture and leadership but cannot, under the unitary system, advance because the existing system has held it down. In a unitary system, initiative and pragmatism are killed and it is like a basket of crabs. Any of them that wants to progress will be held down by other crabs. This could be frustrating!
The North has always lamented and complained that they lag behind the rest of Ghana. They say they lack infrastructure, education, development and are discriminated against. 64 years after independence, they are still complaining. So when will their time come under unitary government? A federal system which will devolve power to them in areas of local government, education, health, agriculture, police, etc should be the panacea for their lamentations. It will, I think, be more relevant, useful and meaningful to them. It will allow them to move at their own pace and initiate their own development projects and programmes in order to suit or take care of their peculiar needs, differences and uniqueness.
As for British Togoland, it has been punched, provoked, harassed, taunted and terrorized at will and with impunity; fragmented and bastardized. It has little or no hope left and the least said about it the better, especially, as every concern raised by the people is considered subversive and treasonable.
Ghanaians must not forget that under unitary government almost every job, political power, enterprise, opportunity, development projects and infrastructure are concentrated in Accra and Kumasi. As a nation, is that what we want? Is that what is good for us? Will this bring the desired development?\
Kosi Kedem (Former MP for Hohoe South)